Frankfort – Last week, the United States celebrated the 95th anniversary of women’s right to vote, a milestone made possible by the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Kentucky was the 23rd state to ratify that amendment, but it did not clear its final legislative hurdle until Tennessee became the 36th in Aug. 1920. Interestingly, that decision was a close one, occurring only when a young legislator voted in favor at the request of his mother.
A year later, Mary Elliott Flanery of Boyd County became the first woman from the South to be elected to a state legislature. She was certainly ready for the challenge; “I can hold my own with the boys when I get to Frankfort,” she reportedly said.
Kentucky has many other women who were pioneers as well. Elizabeth Blackwell, who spent part of her life teaching in Henderson, was the first woman in the United States to earn a medical degree, and Margaret Ingels of Bourbon County was the country’s first female mechanical engineer, becoming a leader in the early development of air conditioning.
Rose Will Monroe, a Pulaski County native, was the model for “Rosie the Riveter” in World War II; and Alice Dunnigan, who was born in Russellville, was the first African-American female reporter to cover the White House.
Kentucky became the seventh state to have a woman serve as governor when Martha Layne Collins was elected in 1983, and the Kentucky Commission on Women was one of the first of its kind in the nation when it was created in 1964.
Two famous Kentucky women have ties to the water. Mary Meagher Plant held the women’s world records for the 100 and 200 meter butterfly for nearly two decades, with her performance in the 100 meter race called the “fifth greatest, single event of all time in any sport” by Sports Illustrated.
Tori Murden McClure, meanwhile, became the first woman – and the first American – to cross the Atlantic Ocean by rowboat, and she was also the first American to ski to the geographic South Pole.
The Hollywood star Jennifer Lawrence, who is from Louisville, is the second-youngest person ever to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards, while Patricia Neal of Whitley County won her Best Actress award in the early 1960s acting opposite of Paul Newman in “Hud.” Diane Sawyer and Rosemary Clooney are two other well-known Kentuckians who have shined in the television news and entertainment industries.
Earlier this year, the Kentucky Commission on Women premiered “Dreamers and Doers: Voices of Kentucky Women,” which features 40 women, including many just mentioned. The documentary was also promoted last week at the Kentucky State Fair and is being distributed to schools and public libraries across the state.
As much progress as women have made in our country over the last 95 years, there is still much work to be done, especially in the fields of elected office and pay equity. Those are the challenges we face going forward, but I am confident we can meet them.
If you have any questions or concerns about this or any aspect of state government, please let me know. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.